Praying, They Were Singing

I’ve always been impressed with the verbiage of Acts 16:25. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (NRSV). What’s fascinating is the Greek verbiage, not the English. In English, singing and praying are two things, but in Greek, it’s seen as one and the same.

A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures reads: “Praying they were singing (simultaneously, blending together petition and praise).” Wayne Jackson’s New Testament commentary reads: “The Greek construction suggests they were ‘singing prayers.’” Alford’s Greek Testament notes: “…in their prayers, [they] were singing praises. The distinction of modern times between prayer and praise, arising from our attention being directed to the shape rather than to the essence of devotion, was unknown in these days.” Vincent’s Word Studies notes: “Lit., praying, they sang hymns. The praying and the praise are not described as distinct acts. Their singing of hymns was their prayer, probably Psalms.”

I find this so interesting because we distinguish prayer and praise, but in the early church, they were not as distinct as we made them out to be. There are many passages where prayer is isolated from praise (Matt. 26:39; Luke 22:44; Heb. 5:7; et. al.). Even in worship, prayer is sometimes distinguished from praise, but it’s often mentioned near to praise (1 Cor. 14:15; James 5:13; Rev. 5:8-9). These commentaries made me wonder if even those of the Reformation understood this concept better than we because Charles Spurgeon commented on Psalm 42 in his Treasury of David, “I would just as soon pray with machinery as to sing with machinery.” Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Orthodox philosopher and theologian David Bentley Hart’s New Testament translation accurately reflect this nuance. “And at about midnight, as they were praying, Paul and Silas sang hymns to God, and the prisoners listened to them.” I also consulted N. T. Wright’s New Testament translation, but he doesn’t reflect this. Most English translations don’t, but why are so many commentaries keen to point this out? Why not translate it as it should be?

Let’s Talk Revelation (Part 2)

In Revelation 7, we read about the 144,000. As you look at this passage, we can first note some information about the four winds. According to Jewish thought, four winds stood at each compass corner. These winds could destroy a nation (Jer. 49.36) or bring new life (Ezek. 37.9). Zechariah portrays these winds as chariots pulled by different teams of horses which leave the Lord’s presence and go out into all the earth (Zech. 6.5-7). Jesus taught that at His coming during the destruction of Jerusalem that the angels would gather the elect from the four winds (Matt. 24.31). 

We, next, observe the faithful being sealed. Ezekiel 9 sets the backdrop for the sealing of God’s faithful. This imagery of the seven executioners is present in Babylonian literature as well. There they punish those having committed religious offenses, as is the case here (Ezek. 9.4). The imagery of Ezekiel’s seven would have reminded the audience steeped in idolatry about the impending punishment that comes from Yahweh. The mark on their forehead in Hebrew was the taw. This was the last character of the paleo-Hebrew alphabet, and it looked like a modern “X,” or cross. Moreover, the Greek letter “chi” was equivalent to taw and was the first letter in Christ’s name in Greek. The church father Origen (A.D. 185-254) wrote, “A third [person] one of those who believe in Christ, said the form of the Taw in the old [Hebrew] script resembles the cross, and it predicts the mark which is to be placed on the foreheads of Christians.”

In Revelation, the seal separates God’s faithful from the faithless. A pseudepigraphical writing called the Psalms of Solomon was composed in the first century B.C. (it details Pompey’s capture of Jerusalem in 63 B.C.). It also gives a little insight into the marking of God’s people: “For the mark of God is upon the righteous for salvation. Famine, sword, and death shall be far from the righteous; for they shall pursue sinners and overtake them, and those who do lawlessness shall not escape the judgment of the Lord” (15.6-8). Sometimes branding in antiquity was also a sign of a slave (3 Macc. 2.29). In Christianity, sealing became symbolic. The Holy Spirit sealed the Asian churches (Eph. 1.13; 4.30). This wasn’t a physical mark, as some might think. It was a mark distinguishable only by God and His agents of wrath (cf. 2 Cor. 1.22), and it distinguished the faithful from the wicked (cf. 2 Tim. 2.19). This seal in Revelation is to protect God’s faithful, as in Ezekiel (Rev. 7.3).

Now, we arrive at 144,000. This list in Revelation of the 12 tribes differs from other lists (see Gen. 35.23-26; 49.3-27; Deut. 33.6-25): Reuben usually heads the list, but Judah does here likely because this is the tribe from whence Jesus, the lion of the tribe of Judah, came (Rev. 1.5; 5.5); and John included Manasseh while omitting Ephraim and Dan (see 1 Kings 12.29-30). Since this group is spared divine wrath but not earthly persecution, it may be that they will be those who complete the number of the slain souls under the altar (Rev. 6.9-11). These twelve tribes are used figuratively for Jewish Christians (James 1.1). Jewish Christians were predominant over the first decade of the early church. Staying with the Jewish identity, their being “first fruits” (Rev. 14.4) was also well founded as spoken of by the Jews (Jer. 2.3; Rom. 11.16; James 1.18). If this concerns Jewish believers, the great multitude in Revelation 7.9ff were Gentile believers. This could also reference the church — God’s new Israel (Gal. 6.16; cf. Gal. 3.7-9, 29).

Whomever they were, they sang a new song described as the roar of rushing waters, a loud peal of thunder, and harpists playing their harps. No heavenly creature could learn this song because participation is limited to those redeemed from the earth (cf. 1 Peter 1.12; Eph. 3.10) centered on redemption by the Lamb from the beast. They were “virgins” (cf. 2 Cor. 11.2) who were blameless (Rev. 14.4). This may mean that they maintained ritual purity before battle (Deut. 23.9-10; 1 Sam. 21.5; 2 Sam. 11.11). Later on, Babylon (Rome) is referred to as the mother of harlots (Rev. 17.3-5), and those who consort with her would have defiled themselves (cf. Rev. 2.22).

Let’s Talk Revelation (Part 1)


Most Evangelical commentators tend to assert that Revelation was written with three periods of time in mind: 1) things John saw in chapter one, 2) those that were in chapters two and three, and 3) those that would take place afterward, beginning with chapters four or six. Charles Ryrie—in his study, Bible notes—advocates the former while John MacArthur—in his Bible handbook—advocates the latter. A key passage to their supposition is 1:19, where it is written:

Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.

What Evangelicals argue for is that chapters six through twenty-two are end-time (eschatological) material that hinges upon a thousand-year reign. However, internal terminology would refute this claim.

  • “The time is near” (1:3; 22:10; cf. Matt. 3:2; 4:17)
  • These things “must soon take place” (22:6)
  • Jesus said he was “coming soon” (22:12, 20; cf. 1:1)

The terms in English and Greek speak to a swift course of action and certainly not one that would be delayed over two millennia. Granted: the judgment scene in chapters twenty and onward appears to be the true end-time material that may be exempt from the interpretation. However, at what point does the contextual divide speak to the original audience and all thereafter come somewhere in chapter twenty and onward unless one holds to a more symbolic interpretation of the final three chapters? A case for understanding the time frame in which John’s original audience may have understood this prophecy is found when comparing his work to other prophetic literature.

Daniel was told to seal up his vision because it referred to many days from his time (Dan. 8:26). He was also told that the book was to remain sealed “until the time of the end” (12:4). As time went on knowledge would increase as to the culmination of these prophecies. He was urged to go his way because the words of his prophecy were “sealed till the time of the end” (12:9). Studying history along with Daniel’s prophecy reveals that it was not for another four hundred years that those kingdoms came which he had been told of (cf. Dan. 2). Therefore, Daniel would not live to see the fulfillment of the prophecies; hence his being instructed to seal the book. So the sealing of a prophecy book looked ahead to a distant period.

When John wrote Revelation, the angel told him not to seal the words of his book (Rev. 22:10). Why? Because “the time [was] at hand.” If Daniel’s prophecy saw fulfillment some four hundred years later, and he was told to seal the book, would not John’s prophecy have been fulfilled long before the same span of time since he was told not to seal his book?

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